These Central Florida summer camps are best for kids with special needs

Special places for special kids

(Camp Boggy Creek)

ORLANDO, Fla. – As summer is approaching, parents and guardians are working on summer camp plans. Whether it’s the away camp experience or a day filled with activities and child care, spots fly fast as parents search for ways to fill their children summer days. If your child has special needs but still wants the summer camp fun, there are options here in Central Florida.

OCA Summer Camp | Orlando, Winter Garden

OCA describes itself as “a special place for special needs.” Kids who decide to spend their days at OCA can enjoy arts and crafts as well as music and dance to help them build movement skills while getting functional communication training. Camp staffers are focusing on social and personal growth opportunities this year. They’re filling the days with swimming, cooking and theater classes along with field trips.

OCA offers a PeeWee Camp for campers younger than 8. The staff-to-participant ratio is 1 to 3. OCA also hosts a School Age Camp designed for participants between 8 and 22. The ratio for this camp is 1 to 4. OCA has three campuses. This camp primarily serves children on the autism spectrum but is open to all children with special needs.

Families can find camp schedules and applications here.

Easterseals Camp Challenge | Sorrento

Easterseals Camp Challenge works to provide a unique experience for children over 6 years of age with special needs or disabilities. They work to make sure participants have the opportunity to actively participate in camping activities and engage in social interaction. From campfires to hiking, Camp Challenge wants to make sure your child has a traditional camp experience.

The camp also includes a therapeutic component within its activities. This is an overnight camp, so the curriculum emphasizes independence in learning how to dress, eat and hygiene among other daily life skills. 

Camp Challenge serves individuals primarily with physical and developmental disabilities. The entire camp facility is fully accessible for those using wheelchairs or facing other mobility challenges. Camp Challenge also offers nursing care for campers who must take medication. 

You can learn more about Camp Challenge on its website.

Quest’s Thunderbird Camp | Apopka 

Quest’s Camp Thunderbird wants your child to play and grow with other children like them. It has six and 12-day overnight sessions for families to choose from. The camp asks families to review program eligibility to see if this camp would best meet their loved one’s needs.

The summer camp curates its curriculum around learning opportunities for children with Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and other developmental disabilities.

Age-specific programming ensures all recreational and development needs are met. Quest hosts Camp Cayuga, one of the few camps in the state with a specific focus on inclusion. It’s open to children with all abilities, exposing children to different types of able-bodied peers. 

Camp Thunderbird also offers a teen program. The program recognizes the difficulties of growing into the teenage years with a disability. The camp curriculum offers more flexibility for campers to partake in activities they enjoy at the time they want to participate. They can create a schedule around sports, games, nature studies, arts, music and drama to cater to their specific outcomes and goals.

You can explore financial aid options at questinc.org.

Camp Boggy Creek | Eustis

Camp Boggy Creek works to be a safe and medically sound summer camp to enrich the lives of children with serious illnesses. 

The camp services children ages 7-16 who’ve been diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening condition. All campers attend for free. 

The retreat offers children a chance to go fishing, go horseback riding or climb a ropes tower. They can also bunk with their fellow campers in one of the camp's 16 cabins, all of which are built to Americans with Disabilities Act standards. Boggy Creek has eight sessions that make up its summer camp, welcoming 150 children for a week during the months of June through August.

There are also various retreats to serve individuals with particular needs or entire families. Potential campers can explore camp options on Boggy Creek’s application. Families can also download the camp brochure at boggycreek.org.

For more information on camps or day cares that cater to special-needs children and adults, visit nathanielshope.org.

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